The Nightingale Archer
This build came from a couple of ideas. First, a lot of people really don't like sneak archery as its considered to be a rather one-dimensional and overpowered playstyle. I wanted to make a sneak archery build that avoids the boredom most people associate with it. Secondly, I wanted to do a Nightingale build; the armor is simply too cool to pass up.
Race: Ultimately, I chose to play an Altmer for several reasons. Their additional 50 magicka, +10 boost to Illusion, Highborn, and starting fury spell helped to shore up the Nightingale’s skill with Illusion spells, particularly during the earlygame. Another nice perk is that they move faster than any other race, which is important for backpedaling and avoiding blows. I also recommend becoming a vampire for bonuses to Sneak and Illusion as well as a couple of useful powers.
Stone: In the early going, I went with the Thief for some fast leveling, important since most of the Nightingale’s equipment is leveled. After that, I recommend going with either the Atronach. The Spell Absorption will be your primary defense against magic attacks, and the extra magicka is nice too. Since you'll be using most of your magicka at the beginning of battle, the hit to magicka regeneration isn't that big a deal.
Stats: 1/2/1. Pretty balanced spread, the Nightingale’s abilities don’t really favor any one of the attributes much more than the others.
Shouts: Aura Whisper and Throw Voice for stealth, Become Ethereal for safely casting master-level Illusion spells, and Slow Time for use with certain tactics (more on this later).
Archery: The mainstay of the Nightingale’s offense, he can rain down a hail of arrows upon his enemies before they even know he’s there. Grab all the perks in this tree.
Sneak: The other obvious skill of the build, essential for conducting the Nightingale’s operations. That being said, it’s not very heavy on perks; all you need is Deadly Aim since the Nightingale Boots and the Muffle spell negate the need for most of the perks on the left side of the tree. You can pick up additional ranks in Stealth if you’d like, but personally, I don’t like being too stealthy because otherwise you end up spending the entire game in sneak mode.
Lockpicking: When it comes to thievery, the Nightingale Archer prefers to use his dexterity to unlock doors and chests to pilfer their contents. Personally, I think Locksmith and Unbreakable take all the fun out of lockpicking, so I only went for Novice – Master Locks and Treasure Hunter.
Speech: So you’ve stolen from half of Skyrim and now you're looking at your ill-gotten gains. What next? Why, you sell them to fences, of course! Grabbing all ranks of Haggling plus all the perks on the left side of the tree will make it easier for you to sell off your loot, which in turn makes it easier to buy filled soul gems (for recharging your weapons) from College of Winterhold members and court wizards for cheap. Investing the extra money into training will enable you to level up even faster, making it easier to unlock the higher level versions of the Nightingale equipment too. As for the right side of the tree, I recommend grabbing Bribery for getting the guards off your back when you get caught stealing.
Illusion: A few of you might look at this and Sneak and then roll your eyes. No, this is not your typical illusionist assassin; rather, Illusion is primarily used outside of stealth. Grab all the perks in this tree.
Light Armor: As one might expect, the Nightingale Archer is skilled in using his signature armor. Grab all the perks in this tree.
You should have 60 perks once the build is completed.
The downside of playing a Nightingale is that their entire inventory (armor, bow, and blade) is leveled, but heavy usage of trainers will make it significantly easier to get to the requisite levels. Nevertheless, I’ll provide links to their respective UESP articles so you can figure out the best level for you to pick it up at.
As one might expect, the Archer is decked out in a set of Nightingale boots, gloves, hood, and armor. Upon completing Trinity Restored, your Armor Rating is boosted by 25 points when wearing the full set, and as a vampire, you can hit the Frost Resistance cap and beyond with the enchantment on the chest piece. Also, picking up the armor set at level 32 or above means that the enchantment on the boots will completely silence your movement regardless of armor weight or perks taken, though in the meantime you can use the Muffle spell. Until you’re at a high enough level to pick up the set, the (Ancient) Shrouded Armor set makes for an effective substitute.
The primary weapon of the Nightingale Archer is, of course, the Nightingale Bow. It’s a rather powerful weapon, for in addition to its physical damage, it also deals a leveled amount of frost and shock damage. Important to note is that regardless of what level you pick it up at, it’ll always reduce the target’s speed by half for three seconds, so if you manage to keep your opponents under constant fire, their movements will be sluggish while you dance around them. Until you get the it, Firiniel’s End makes an effective substitute.
For situations where you don’t want to expend bow charges, such as against weaker enemies, I recommend an Ebony Bow. While it lacks the power of the Nightingale Bow, you can improve it a little bit with some smithing skill and any potions or equipment of fortify smithing you come across. It also looks good with the Nightingale Armor. Once you're at level 36 Ebony Bows start showing up in leveled lists, at which point you can usually find one at blacksmiths or on the corpses of Draugr Deathlords.
The other weapon at the Nightingale Archer’s disposal is the Nightingale Blade. While one-handed is entirely unperked, it can actually manage some damage between its enchantment and the fortify one-handed effect on the Nightingale Gloves. More importantly, the absorb health effect on the blade is the only means the Nightingale Archer has of healing outside of bought or found potions. Consider training Destruction to increase the number of charges on both it and the Nightingale Bow.
For jewelry, I recommend using whatever you find that has a useful and relevant enchantment. Alternatively, you can shop at Radiant Raiment until you find something you like.
Slow Time is by far the most important shout to this build, as it’s necessary for the following tactics used by the Nightingale Archer. Note that you don't have to do the Civil War and College of Winterhold questlines to get the words locked in Korvanjund and Labyrinthian, as you can use the dungeon backdoor glitch to get them instead.
Arrow Barrage: Using Slow Time with a bow enables the Nightingale Archer to rain down a storm of arrows; dropping enemies before they can even so much as touch him. This is also where several of the higher-tier archery perks pay off. Power Shot and Bullseye stagger and paralyze enemies, slowing them down even further, while Ranger lets you backpedal faster and Quick Shot enables you to fire more arrows. If you have any slow or paralysis poisons sitting in your inventory, using them with this move would be a good idea.
Leech: The most powerful version of the Nightingale Blade has a 25 point absorb health enchantment. That’s pretty powerful. Two strikes with this weapon is equivalent to a Fast Healing spell, and four to Close Wounds, not to mention that you’re also absorbing stamina and hurting the enemy. Throw Slow Time into the mix and suddenly you can regain a ton of health by simply dancing around your opponents while hitting them with the Nightingale Blade. Until you can obtain it, you can use other absorb health weapons such as the Gauldur Blackblade or the Blade of Woe to the same (albeit weaker) effect.
Combat with the Nightingale Archer rewards a very calculating, methodical style of play. Always approach groups of enemies from stealth whenever you can, and choose your plan of attack carefully. You’ll usually want to cast some frenzy spells first in order to throw them into disarray. When the time is right, target one of them with a sneak attack. I recommend going after mages first; they’re the squishiest (particularly before they use their flesh spells) and their spells, shock ones in particular, are difficult to dodge. In any event, you’ll most likely end up getting detected, and that’s where the real fun begins.
In a straight up fight, the Nightingale Archer aims to keep himself agile and his enemies unable to attack. The easiest way to achieve the latter is with Fear spells; enemies can’t attack you if they’re running away. My favorite tactic was to throw out a dual casted Rout spell as soon as I was detected; then pull out my bow and go to town on everything that wasn’t running away. As for keeping yourself agile, that’s where Slow Time comes into play, as well as the aforementioned higher-tier archery perks and the slow effect of the Nightingale Bow.
I roleplayed my Nightingale Archer as a thief for hire. He’s willing to do any sort of dirty work, up to and including assassinations. Naturally, this lends itself quite nicely to the Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood. When not on the job, he steals any valuables he can to earn a little extra cash. While he respects the terms of the Nightingale Oath as laid out by Nocturnal, he holds no particular reverence for her, opting instead to use his powers as he sees fit. Speaking of which, for my Nightingale power of choice, I went with Nightingale Strife for another health absorb option.
Overall, I had quite a bit of fun with this build. I haven't messed around with Archery-focused builds much, but alternating between methodical sneaking and fast-paced open combat made for an enjoyable playstyle. If you liked this, then check out my other builds to see more!